This documentary from writer-director Leslie Zemeckis (wife of Oscar-winning “Forrest Gump” director Robert Zemeckis) affectionately tells everything you ever wanted to know about the golden age of burlesque, which is now making a comeback as a popular form of entertainment.
This lovely tribute is dedicated to the memory of several performers, who have since passed away, who appear for their last and often times only interview.
This often ignored art form is defined as a gaudy and risqué variety show characterized by broad ribald comedy, singing, dancing, acrobatics and striptease. The strippers would take off their clothes to shouts of “take it off, take it all off” while dancing erotically to arouse men. Some of the famous gals who undressed down to tassel-twirling pasties and g-strings are Tempest Storm, Blaze Starr, Kitty West and Gypsy Rose Lee.
Zemeckis uses still photographs, archival footage and talking head interviews to reveal behind-the-scene nostalgic recollections of life on the touring circuit. The main draws initially were the “top banana” comedians who appealed to working class people. They satirically poked fun at the rich upper class and at what lengths people would go in the pursuit of sex.
The standout interviewee is Alan Alda (star of “M*A*S*H”), whose father Robert Alda was a handsome “tit singer” and a straight man. Chris Costello, daughter of funny man Lou Costello, recalls how her dad met Bud Abbott and that most of their comedy routines in films came straight out of burlesque. Fan dancer Sally Rand from Hickory County, Mo., is remembered by her adopted son Sean. He says that her famous dance symbolized two herons flying over a moonlit lake in the Ozarks.
The women were motivated into this lifestyle to escape poverty and as a way to make a living to support their children. They wore expensive outfits and made more money than the actresses in Hollywood. They generally were not hookers or prostitutes. Bouncers in the cafes and nightclubs strictly enforced the house rules of “you can look, but you can’t touch.” The girls traveled from one town to another by train.
The late President John F. Kennedy was a frequent attendee of burlesque shows. Several strippers dated him. The wild, red-headed Storm of bumping and grinding fame admits to sleeping with him.
Burlesque was killed by television, the women’s movement and hard-core porn. This enlightening peek behind the curtain covers lots of ground in just 98 minutes. Now playing exclusively for a limited engagement at the Screenland Crown Center.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"